Penn State team works to improve mental health care for people with aphasia

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA – A team of researchers from Penn State’s Colleges of Health and Human Development and Education recently completed a pilot program funded by a grant from the Schreyer Institute on Teaching Excellence. This program was the first step in an ambitious plan to train undergraduates, graduate students, practicing speech-language pathologists, and clinical and mental health rehabilitation counselors in the mental health issues of people with aphasia, a condition that impairs a person’s ability to communicate. .

About aphasia

Aphasia occurs when brain damage – most often from a stroke – limits a person’s ability to understand or produce spoken or written language. People living with aphasia retain their knowledge and memory, but they lose some or all of their language processing ability. Symptoms of mild aphasia may include the inability to remember words when speaking or replacing a certain consonant sound with a different sound. A person with greater brain damage could lose the ability to speak or understand a conversation.

Although it is a little-known disease, aphasia affects twice as many people as Parkinson’s disease. Communication deficits resulting from aphasia cause problems in many aspects of people’s lives, including mental health.

Train students to see needs and respond to them appropriately

People with aphasia often work with speech-language pathologists for rehabilitation, but speech-language pathologists often do not receive mental health training. Additionally, people with aphasia may not be referred for counseling even when they have mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, which often occur in people with aphasia. Because aphasia can make it difficult for people to be understood or to understand speech, counselors may not understand how people with aphasia can participate in speech therapy.

To fill this gap in care, Chaleece Sandberg, Assistant Professor in Communication Sciences and Disorders; Anne Maire Kubat, lecturer in communication sciences and disorders; Liza Conyers, professor of rehabilitation and social services; and Kristen Nadermann, Assistant Professor of Counselor Education and Herr Clinic Coordinator, developed the “Preparing Clinical Students to Meet the Unique Counseling Needs of People with Aphasia” training program.

Researchers worked with communication sciences and disorders students in training to become speech-language pathologists and students in training counselor-in-training to become counselors. Future speech-language pathologists will learn how to engage patients with mental health issues and when to refer their patients to a licensed counselor. Undergraduate rehabilitation and human service students and graduate students in counseling training will learn about aphasia and how to communicate with people who have difficulty communicating. All students will be introduced to the communication, psychosocial and mental health needs of people with aphasia.

Training management

Last year, the researchers piloted the clinical aspect of the training program with two doctoral students. This semester, materials are introduced in master’s level courses at both colleges. After completing the eight-hour online training modules, students work together to provide mental health services to a person with aphasia. Once training is established at the graduate level, the core content will be incorporated into the undergraduate curriculum for both majors.

In addition to the training, the researchers published an article summarizing how to support the mental health of people with aphasia in the “American Journal of Speech Language Pathology“. The paper was written to raise awareness beyond Penn State and builds on previous work by Sandberg and Conyers to apply the client-centered work model to people living with aphasia. Conyers said rehabilitation and mental health counselors can become aware of aphasia and learn basic skills to communicate with people with aphasia to better meet their mental health needs. Sandberg stressed that all speech-language pathologists need to know how and when to have conversations about mental health with their patients.

The research team is currently working on a follow-up document to provide training and tools to clinical speech-language pathology supervisors. Many supervisors have not received training related to counseling needs and could benefit from a framework for applying basic counseling skills to assess clients’ mental health needs and determine when to refer to a counselor. approved would be advised.

The extent of the impact of aphasia

“Strokes are more common in people over 40,” Sandberg said. “These people have fully developed careers, social circles and lives. Then they have a stroke, they have aphasia, and everything collapses. Usually they can’t do the same jobs as before. They are losing their friends. They may not be able to communicate with family members. All the roles in their life are changing.

“Inside, these people retain the same identity as before their stroke,” Sandberg continued. “But their interactions with the world are completely different, and they lose a lot of personal power which, naturally, is devastating.”

Conyers agreed that aphasia affects many more lives than people realize.

“Aphasia affects millions of Americans, and many of them don’t get the mental health care they need. Fortunately, through the Schreyer Institute on Teaching Excellence and other programs, Penn State supports the interdisciplinary collaboration needed to solve these types of problems, ”said Conyers. “I hope this training is the first step towards the awareness and collaboration needed to provide essential mental health care. ”

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